Hoping to spoil this week’s political embrace of erstwhile foes Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, Republicans are picking at festering wounds from the Democratic White House primary battle.
Presumptive nominee Obama and his vanquished foe will make a choreographed effort to repair party fractures at a fundraiser in Washington Thursday and, in an event rich with symbolism, in the town of Unity, New Hampshire, on Friday.
But backers of Republican candidate John McCain see the reconciliation offensive as a chance to detonate unspent political ammunition from Clinton’s attacks that still litter the campaign trail.
Senior Democrats had always feared the bile of the prolonged Democratic nomination struggle, which effectively cleaved the party’s core support in two, could damage whoever emerged as the party champion.
That is one reason why Clinton, despite losing the contest, still has a vital role in unifying the party, and remains an important ally in Obama’s quest for the presidency.
As the Democratic epic unfolded, the former first lady, ex-president Bill Clinton and surrogates questioned Obama’s commander-in-chief credentials and dismissed him as an eloquent wordsmith with a thin resume.
Among Democrats, those attacks may have been damaging, but were not decisive. The question now is will McCain’s use of similar tactics be more successful and find a more receptive audience in the national electorate?
"Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign, I will bring a lifetime of experience, and Senator Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002," Clinton said in March.
Those remarks have already been circulated by the Republican National Committee (RNC), with a litany of other Clinton barbs.
The most notorious Clinton attack on Obama was a chilling ad asking who voters wanted in the Oval Office to take a 3:00 am telephone call on a breaking national security crisis.
McCain has taken up where Clinton left off, hitting Obama for inexperience, and trying to make this campaign, like President George W. Bush’s 2004 triumph over Democrat John Kerry, a referendum on who will keep America safe.
The Arizona senator’s foreign policy aide Randy Scheunemann said last week Obama was the "perfect manifestation of a September 10 mindset," raising the September 11 attacks in a discussion on how to prosecute terror suspects.
"If Obama did receive that 3:00 am phone call, I guess his response would be to call lawyers at the Justice Department," Scheunemann said.
McCain has attacked Obama’s chairmanship of a Senate subcommittee which has some oversight over NATO and has yet to probe the US-led mission in Afghanistan — another recycled Clinton attack.
"He has not held one single hearing on Afghanistan where young Americans are in harm’s way as we speak. My friends, this is about leadership," McCain said in Nevada in May.
Answering Clinton on the issue in March, Obama aides said the senator only took over the Senate Foreign Relations committee’s panel on European affairs in January 2007, just as he hit the campaign trail.
On Monday, the RNC issued a "campaign countdown" to the Clinton-Obama meeting, featuring pointed past comments by attack dogs in her press team foreshadowing Obama’s policy reversal last week on campaign financing.
McCain’s assaults on Obama seem particularly aimed at the blue-collar, white voters who flocked to Clinton in droves during the primary season and who form a potent political force in battlegrounds like Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"Those sorts of attacks can have more credibility when they come from the candidate’s own party," said Dante Scala, a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire.
"If McCain attacks Obama it is kind of chalked up as par for the course but when they can use a quotation from his own party, I think that is something else."
Throughout the primary race, Clinton’s attacks on Obama often backfired because they exposed her own political liabilities.
When she attacked Obama on experience, for example, the Obama campaign ridiculed her claims that her global travels as first lady prepared her to be president.
Whether McCain’s attacks will be insulated by his military heroism and long service in the US Congress, and therefore prove more successful, may be one of the keys to November’s election.